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Cinematic Adaptations of Lovecraft Literature
Posted by: thespookfish (IP Logged)
Date: 27 August, 2015 02:16PM
Hi,

I am currently engaged in some research work on Lovecraft, and am interested in gathering some data specifically about cinema adaptations of his work (especially those which are direct adaptations, rather than movies only influenced by Lovecraft).

My starting point is that film adaptations of Lovecraft are generally of poor quality or badly recieved (however, please feel free to debate this). Therefore my questions break down like this (there may be some overlap in the queries);

1. What do you think are the main problems in adapting the literature of Lovecraft to the screen, and why do you feel that, in general, it doesn't work?

2. How do you feel that film-makers have dealt with concepts such as 'nameless', 'abbhorent', and 'unspeakable' - words which are a regular trope of his writings? How do you think that they could tackle these in future adaptations?

3. What narrative elements of Lovecraftian fiction cause further complications in adaptation?

Thanks in advance for your feedback.

Ste

Re: Cinematic Adaptations of Lovecraft Literature
Posted by: Ancient History (IP Logged)
Date: 27 August, 2015 07:41PM
Quote:
My starting point is that film adaptations of Lovecraft are generally of poor quality or badly recieved (however, please feel free to debate this).
I'll debate this. It is generally true that straight adaptations are rare, and critical reception is generally lukewarm, but Re-Animator (1985) has been hailed as a black comedy classic, and other films have likewise received honest praise. I think the real problem is less a lack of quality than the fact that Lovecraft's work tends to translate very badly to the screen. That doesn't mean you can't have very good quality and well-received adaptations, like Die Farbe, but they're usually built on top of a Lovecraft story rather than being strict adaptations.

But, to answer your questions:

Quote:
1. What do you think are the main problems in adapting the literature of Lovecraft to the screen, and why do you feel that, in general, it doesn't work?

Lovecraft's fiction is very atmospheric, with few characters, little character development, plot, or dialogue - not the easiest vehicle for creating a screenplay out of, with actual actors and sets. Probably to compound the difficulty, the special effects that are most impressive and memorable - like a shoggoth or Cthulhu - would tend to be fairly expensive to produce well on any budget. One of the things notable about Re-Animator is the considerable use of stage tricks and practical effects, which not only come out rather well in the film, but have aged rather well compared to a lot of films, like Lord of Illusions with its really cheesy early-CGI.

Quote:
2. How do you feel that film-makers have dealt with concepts such as 'nameless', 'abbhorent', and 'unspeakable' - words which are a regular trope of his writings? How do you think that they could tackle these in future adaptations?
Kind of wish I had my copy of Lurker in the Lobby at hand for reference - I think the "ineffables" get far too much attention when it comes to Lovecraftian filmmaking; it's cited by a lot of writers and directors as a kind of block to making Lovecraftian films, but if you look at the films themselves this kind of thing is rarely a problem at all. If you look at "Lovecraftian" films as opposed to straight Lovecraft adaptations, the mood, atmosphere, and set dressing of Alien is wonderful before you even get to the monster - and the xenomorph itself is such a terrific shadowy, organic thing, so explicitly real and yet different, that it works fantastically well. You don't get a lot of that kind of thing in Lovecraft adaptations - the reveals in Dagon just doesn't quite have the same "kick" - but that's not for lack of trying on the part of director Stuart Gordon, I just think the mostly internal reveal of Lovecraft's narrative is hard to express on screen.

Quote:
3. What narrative elements of Lovecraftian fiction cause further complications in adaptation?
It's a hard sell to studios. No action, no overt sex, very little gross-out horror...to do properly you'd need to basically do a psychological horror film with the approach of an art film, something like Suspiria meets The Ninth Gate. There's a very slim area for getting such films funded and produced, which is why you see more amateur or semi-pro productions like the Lovecraft Historical Society films than you do major studios - and when you do see bigger studios attempting this stuff, it's usually with more than a bit of sex, gore, or camp, probably to satisfy the people backing the film financially. I mean hell, they made two sequels to Re-Animator; they're fun films and no mistake, but they're not great films in the league of the original.

Re: Cinematic Adaptations of Lovecraft Literature
Posted by: thespookfish (IP Logged)
Date: 31 August, 2015 07:39AM
This is great, thank you for your contribution!

Yes, it really comes down to the fact that adaptation, even in the meaning of the word, requires change, and that an adaptation is an interpretation (or reinterpretation) by a reader and nothing more (can you have an 'official' adaptation, is that even possible?).

I think a reliance on keeping things OUT of shot, and using practical effects, may be a big part of it. I mean, have a look at The Thing (1982) against The Thing (2011) - for my money, I think the 2011 movie has aged worse than the 1982, simply due to its CGI and showing more rather than less (although I must say, the 2011 movie could have been a lot worse and was surprisingly enjoyable).

And yeah, the 'ineffable' - this really requires a dynamite screenplay and an extremely talented director. Movies such as 2001 or Picnic at Hanging Rock spring to mind, but it's a difficult act to juggle. Maybe restraint on the part of the film-maker is as worthy a skill as representation.

Ste



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